Griffins Begin Selling Wings

May 31, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Although the franchise colors are green, blue, silver and white, the Grand Rapids Griffins have begun painting the town red — a Detroit Red Wings’ red.

The local AHL franchise recently marked the start of its new five-year affiliation with its NHL counterpart in Hockeytown by putting up 30 billboards throughout the metro area.

But before the boards went up, Griffins Vice President of Sales and Marketing Bob Sack took the wraps off a new season-ticket package that has added benefits waiting in the Wings for ticket holders.

Even earlier that same week, Griffins GM Bob McNamara and head coach Bruce Cassidy had their first face-to-face discussion with Red Wings GM Ken Holland and his assistant Jim Nill as partners for the next five seasons.

“It was a good meeting. We could really sense a real strong spirit of cooperation, and they seemed very willing to make sure this thing works well for us,” said McNamara.

McNamara said the talk with Holland and Nill centered on the prospects the Red Wings would send here for the upcoming season. They also went over a list of minor-league free agents that the Red Wings may sign and then assign here. One will likely be a veteran minor league netminder, who would also serve as the Red Wings’ third goaltender, while the rest will probably be skilled players who can play defense.

“It was kind of a fact-finding mission to find out how they felt about certain players and they wanted to know how we felt about players, and obviously we need to be on the same page. So there was a lot of discussion about personnel,” he said.

Once the personnel is in place, then McNamara and Cassidy will work on the system the Griffins will play next season. The affiliate normally adopts the parent club’s style of play, so when a player is called up he is familiar with the system, and McNamara said that would also happen here.

McNamara, the Griffins’ only GM in franchise history, and Cassidy, who recently signed a two-year extension to coach the Griffins, also will be involved in a prospect tournament that the Red Wings will be a part of after Labor Day in Traverse City.

“I’m certain that our coaching staff will play a pretty significant role in that,” he said.

McNamara will meet again with the Red Wings’ brain trust around July 1, the first day free agents can be signed. He feels that meeting will give him a better idea of who will be playing here and what he needs to do to have everything in place for October, when the Griffins begin their seventh season and their first with the Red Wings.

And like McNamara, season-ticket holders also have some decisions to make this summer — they have two new options to consider.

One is the Hockeytown package. It gives buyers a discount on upper-bowl seats to Red Wings preseason games, college hockey games at Joe Louis Arena and to Tigers games at Comerica Park. It also allows them to order upper-bowl tickets to Red Wings regular-season games in July and get $10 off a subscription to the official Red Wings magazine.

The other option lets season-ticket buyers lock in their seats and ticket prices for either two or five years, with the latter being the length of the affiliation agreement.

“With the Red Wings affiliation, professional hockey in West Michigan begins a new era,” said Sack.

A season-ticket package also includes a seat to the Red Wings Red & White Game on Sept. 19 at Van Andel Arena. More information is available at 774-4585, Ext. 3002.

For the Griffins, their association with the Red Wings is as much a marketing relationship as it is a player-affiliation agreement, as Detroit consistently leads the NHL in merchandise and ticket sales.

The billboards, created by the Griffins and their in-house agency, InVision Creative, will be up for about three more weeks. It’s the earliest the franchise has ever run a campaign and its message will change as October draws nearer.

Whatever its final message will be is uncertain now. But one thing is clear today: The ad campaign will say as much about the hockey business as it will about the game of hockey.

“There has been a buzz about this new relationship since it was announced in January, and this is the time to start communicating that the Griffins hockey experience will be brand new this fall,” said Sack. “These billboards mark the first time that our logo is branded alongside that of the Red Wings, signaling what’s to come.”

Next week: The story behind the ad campaign.

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